Sparta Board of Education Hammers Out New Goals

NJ School Board Association Field Service Representative Alfred Annunziata facilitied the Sparta Board of Education goal setting meeting. Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Credits: Jennifer Dericks
Credits: Jennifer Dericks

SPARTA, NJ - There was a special meeting of the Board of Education on Monday night at Sparta High School to review previous goals and establish new ones. The four-and-a-half hour meeting was facilitated by New Jersey School Board Association Field Service Representative Alfred Annunziata.

First, board members were given packets that contained a summary of the board members’ self-evaluation. The evaluation was completed by eight of the nine board members. Scott Turner said he did not participate.  Additionally, Superintendent Dennis Tobin and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Melissa Varley were invited to participate in a portion of the self-evaluation.    

There were several categories based on the board goals for 2013-14. Annunziata provided an average score for each section based on combined input, along with each individual’s score for the category.  As the name implies, the evaluation is self-administered. In many cases the individual’s score was significantly higher than the score for the board as a whole. 

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Annunziata addressed that discrepancy. “Typically where you have individual focus, you have individual scores that are significantly higher. Where you have a focus on the good of the whole board the individual’s scores are often lower than the board’s score.”   

Discussion of report of past goals was often contentious. Reviewing the first goal that discussed student achievement, former president Frank Favichia accused Vice-President Kelly McEvoy of “causing animosity regarding trying to get data to see if the goal is being met.” Saying this has been a problem “since the minute you came on, since January.” 

McEvoy responded, "I don't know what you are talking about. Please explain. Do you have an example?"  None was given.

There was a bright spot in the discussion regarding the technology goal. Tobin said, “Infrastructure for PARCC is okay. Sparta was one of the few districts that did well; [we] came out of pilot testing without problems.”

Board members were asked to list areas they wished to have considered for board or district goals for the next year. Brenda Beebe suggested they should focus on student achievement in the middle and elementary schools and monitoring of implementation of district policy.  Favichia said he wanted to focus on outdoor facilities.

Kim Yoemans said she would like to see “standard assessments that are consistent and a data management system to produce reports.”  After much discussion about Yoemans’s input, Tobin interjected that they had previously discussed this issue at length and the decision had been made that the district would not spend money to purchase the commercially made assessment system that Yoemans and Beebe wanted.  Further there was no need to add more testing, that no additional time should be taken away from instruction to give more assessments. 

They continued on that topic.  Beebe’s objection was that the district-created common assessments gave different results than the state tests. Varley reiterated that the two types of tests measure different things.  She said, “There is no way to compare a common assessment to NJASK.  It is comparing apples to oranges.”

Tobin did add that he would like to see the board focus on implementing Full Day Kindergarten for the 2015-2016 school year, but that he did not see the need for it to be a District Goal. 

After the topic list was completed, Annunziata began to help the board build their District Goals. He reminded them, “These goals are supposed to be the ‘What’. The administrators then put together an action plan. That is the ‘How’.” The goals would then be approved by the board. The action plan is discussed with the board and implemented by the educators. At the end of the year the board evaluates the superintendent based on the district goals; have they been achieved, progress made towards achievement or not achieved.

The board put together a frame work of the five goals they would like to adopt:

  • Increase student achievement for all grades in Math and Language Arts for both General and Special Education students
  • Develop a Long Range Facilities Plan
  • Create a Long Range Strategic Plan
  • Address additional Professional Development

Next came board goals. There was additional discussion and contention. Annunziata even had to chastise Richard Bladek and Favichia for having a side bar discussion saying, “that was a large part of the problem with the board effectiveness.”  He continued, addressing the whole board saying they all have side discussions and are not listening to what was going on at the table. 

They were able to hone in on three board goals:

  • Board Policy- audit, update, review
  • Planning – continued from last year
  • Communications –Internal board operations and external board communications continued from last year

Annunziata recommended a fourth: improving board effectiveness. They agreed to add that as well. 

The next step is for Annunziata to synthesize the agreed upon goals into a cohesive document for the board to review. The board members will have a chance to wordsmith the document before it is finally put to a vote for adoption. 

Annunziata concluded, “The good news was that you were effective tonight; we got done what we had to get done.  The bad news is that you were not efficient.  But we are going to work on that.” 

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